01/08/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Prometheus Books. 458 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: $18.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61614-495-1).
check out website: www.prometheusbooks.com
Author Guy Harrison from the start admits that he is a born sceptic. Actually, he's an American, so it's spelt 'skeptic' but we share the same meaning. The title of this book, '50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True', kinda gives away what the subject is about. Rather than pooh-poohing any belief from the start, he explains why something isn't true with counter-evidence.
Divided into eight sections, this book will test what you believe and why you're better to question everything, including your senses, than to ever take anything at face value. Harrison explains how humans have a tendency to seek patterns in anything, whether it's real or not and how it can be misled, let alone deceived by people who see such things. He also points out how we remember success rates more than failures, which can also have a habit of missing information as well. I think that tells us a lot about our own memories as much about what draws our attention.
In some respects, when I was reading this book, I tuned into looking into patterns in the beliefs themselves for their own common denominators. It's hardly surprising one of the conclusions I drew was the interest in the arcane isn't a modern day phenomenon if you compare to how people made gods out of the elements and season changes let alone believe in miracles. It must be in the mental make-up.
If you ever wanted to put doubters in their place about the Moon landings, then they need to read chapter ten. Considering the ocean landings of the returning Apollo missions, that would mean that there would have to have been two launches, with one landing on land away from prying eyes which is ludicrous to contemplate.
Harrison's examination of UFOs makes some serious points. One that he doesn't cover but I did when I took it more seriously is that if there were alien spaceships, you would expect to see photographs of consistent shapes than as many as there have been. There was one over several countries but that one turned out to be a hoax as well.
When the Roswell incident is concerned, it seems Project Mogul, the planting in the sky of a series of high-altitude balloons strung together carrying listening equipment was to blame. Looking at the description, I can't help wonder if the flying boomerangs Kenneth Arnold saw from his aircraft were the same thing distorted in the sunlight.
When the Holocaust and other victims of Man's atrocities to Man, Harrison did wonder why there weren't more museums reminding people of our atrocious past. For the record, there is a museum in Bristol, UK, which reminds everyone of the black slave trade that was controlled from that port which has also got a website.
One of the most damning things Harrison points out is the news exploitation on American television which distorts what you people across the pond see about events in your own country, let alone the rest of the world. One of my own main criticisms of American culture is everything is seen in terms of money rather than value. Harrison makes a good case for people to boycott news channels until they gain some respective news reporting again. After all, without you, those channels don't have any adverting revenue. An interesting statistic Harrison points out that more people die in car accidents per annum than terrorism, some like 1% in fact. Perhaps car terrorism is something which should be feared more?
Just in case you think it's all one-sided looking at his own culture, Harrison does take a look at homeopathy in the UK, not helped very much by members of the royal family swearing by it. To correct him a little on that, there's more interest in it by the upper and upper middle classes in homeopathy than the rest of us who are less likely to be taken in. We lower classes don't share in such stupidity.
One chapter that gave me an extreme 'Eureka!' moment and something I'm not even sure if Harrison considered with chapter twenty-five but I ended up comparing his example of faith-healer Benny Hinn to Christ, then the later could well have been a practicing evangelist himself and the miracles an exaggeration with no proof of the results being sustained after the 'cures'. Granted Christ might not have been after wealth, but big congregations of any sort do tend to have a euphoric moment and why shouldn't it have applied back then? When you cross-check this chapter with chapter twenty-eight in regards to which god(s) are real, I hope this will get anyone to question their faith in anything you can't see and touch. By nature, Man has shown itself to have a need to believe in things and the root of this entire book shows it can so often be misled.
Harrison gives a great argument as to the rise in measles and other juvenile diseases which should have any concerned parent rushing to get their kids the MMR vaccination as quickly as possible. Those juvenile diseases are normally under control, they haven't gone away.
According to Harrison, over 40% of Americans never read a book again after graduating from education which beggars the question of what do they do with their time? As this number keeps coming up, I do wonder if it's the same 40% who also believe in creationism. Mind you, 60% of Americans believe Noah's Ark to be a true event as well and even more, 75%, believe in angels. This and other statistics make for scary reading of a high-tech country with such backward beliefs although I would like to see a better breakdown analysis of how many third world immigrants responses would affect this as it would in the UK.
Lest you think this book is all about religion, Harrison moves back to the arcane with haunted houses. Granted we have more of them in the UK but we also have a lot of old creaking houses as well. What is far scarier is the number of people killed as witches up to this very day. If witches were so powerful then why are they so easy to capture and kill? Totally illogical.
As to the existence of Bigfoot or Sasquatch in the USA and Canada, come to that, especially as so many Native Indian places are named after it. Even outside of the hoaxes, I can't help feel there is a lot of northern forest areas that haven't been explored which could conceivably conceal a working population although one would have to question what they feed on. I really did wish he'd asked Jane Goodall about her belief in these giants as I suspect she wouldn't be pointing towards the Americas but Outer Mongolia where there is often more than a hint that there are some man-apes roaming about.
There's a lot more in this book but my reaction should tell you there's enough to whet all your appetites, if not make you more informed. I would recommend that you read the whole book through rather than cherrypick particular interests, mostly because all of the subjects will make you stop and think, especially on subjects you might have taken for granted. From a Science Fiction perspective, it might make it easier to forget the old tropes and come up with some new as well. Don't believe without checking facts and get reliable sources.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA